Batting collapses, selection dilemmas and mystifying tactics have created a perfect storm for Australia as their Indian tour, billed as the toughest assignment in Test cricket, threatens to unravel with two matches remaining.

Hopes of regaining the Border-Gavaskar trophy ended in Delhi after the tourists capitulated with the bat to hand India an unassailable 2-0 lead in the four-match series.


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The defeat, which came a week after the hosts sealed an emphatic innings victory in the opener, was particularly galling after Australia worked themselves into a winning position before crumbling in the face of the Indian spinners.

An overreliance on the sweep shot saw them surrender their ascendancy with Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin combining to run through the Australian line-up.

Australia have had an extended break to pore over the calamitous defeat and there is still plenty to play for ahead of the third Test in Indore. A drawn series remains a possibility and they will qualify for the World Test Championship final at The Oval in June if they avoid a 4-0 whitewash.

But they will be without captain Pat Cummins who returned to Australia this week to be at home with his seriously ill mother.

Steve Smith will lead the team in his absence, the third time he has deputised since his ban for his role in the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa in 2018. He averages over 67 with the bat as captain and will be targeting a big score after twice falling to Ashwin last week.

Steve Smith
Steve Smith will captain Australia with Pat Cummins unavailable due to a family illness

He will be without opener David Warner, who will miss the final two Tests because of a concussion and a fractured elbow and seamer Josh Hazlewood who has flown home after failing to overcome a persistent Achilles problem.

Cameron Green and Mitchell Starc are expected to return with the left-armer pushing through the pain barrier to play his first Test since sustaining a finger injury in the Boxing Day Test.

“There’s going to be a level of discomfort for a little while, I don’t think it is going to be 100 per cent for a little while, but the ball is coming out quite nicely and I feel like I’m pretty much at full tilt,” he said.

“It wouldn’t be the first Test match I’ve played in some sort of discomfort. If I only played when I was at 100 per cent, I would have only played five or 10 Tests.”

Green will provide valuable support, with Australia likely to retain three spinners with breakout star Todd Murphy and Matt Kuhnemann joining Nathan Lyon.

The number of Australian wickets taken by Indian spinners in the first two Tests

Murphy became the 35th Australian to take a five-wicket haul on Test debut in Nagpur and has bowled with control and composure alongside the veteran Lyon. He played with a side strain in Delhi but is set to make a third successive appearance after recovering in the break between matches.

An under-fire batting unit must nullify the Indian spinners on a hastily arranged wicket likely to provide considerable turn at Holkar Stadium and Travis Head, restored to the team after being mysteriously overlooked for the first Test, will look to set the tone at the top of the order.

Head has averaged 73.50 over the last two seasons at home but was left out in Nagpur which led to “robust” conversations with the leadership group.

“It’s something I didn’t expect coming here, but sometimes that happens and thought I was able to go through that week and prepare myself for another chance,” he said.

Australia have passed 200 only once in this series and will need substantial contributions from Marnus Labuschagne and Smith, the top two batters in the world, at three and four to post competitive totals.

KL Rahul
KL Rahul is under pressure and could be replaced for the third Test

India can secure their place in the World Test Championship final with a win in the third Test and there could be a change at the top of the order with KL Rahul under intense scrutiny.

He has made 20, 17 and 1 in the series and averages a touch above 13.57 in the last month. The explosive Shubman Gill is next in line and tellingly Rahul was vice-captain for the first two matches, but no vice-captain has been named for the last two Tests.

Their esteemed middle-order are still searching for the best form with the bat, with Axar Patel (158) and Ravindra Jadeja (96) in the top three run-scorers behind Rohit Sharma (183).

The spinners have dominated but seamers Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj have also hurried up the Australians with a disciplined line and sharp short-pitched bowling.

Problems have been mounting for Australia ever since they arrived in India. Now with Smith back at the helm, they will be hoping they are not insurmountable as attention turns to a pivotal third Test in Indore.

Watch the third Test between India and Australia from 3.45am on Wednesday 1 March on BT Sport 1.